Karyn Ellis, M.A., L.M.H.C.

Effects of Early Childhood Attachment on a Marriage Part I

Children who have not developed a secure attachment to their caregiver/parent are put at a great disadvantage for adulthood. These children are unable to develop coping and social skills and may never be able to properly attach to a partner. Couple’s who struggle with attachment have higher divorce rates, fear abandonment, and are unsatisfied by their relationship(s). These couples need counseling to examine their current relationship and attachment needs.

Early Childhood Attachment

Adult relationships are a reflection of the secure or in secure attachments made as a child. A child’s insecure attachment leads to affect dysregulation which causes social behavioral problems or an inability to successfully relate to another. Attachment theory states that childhood insecurity or attachment difficulties lead to future intimate relationship problems. Insecure child attachment with a caregiver or guardian causes long term affects on an adult’s ability to securely attach to a partner and have stable or satisfying relationship.


Secure attachment starts at birth and impacts how the child will develop and socialize with others outside of those first attachment relationships. Secure attachment relationships create the sense of belonging, healthy dependency, security and stability that allows the individual to be independent. How the caregiver interacts with the child, meets the child’s needs and recognizes the child’s emotional gestures, as well as the consistency of interaction has a long term impact on how the child develops socially, how they are able to relate to others as well as how stable their future relationships will be. Insecure attachments lead to stress, anxiety, and inability to cope with danger or stress. Insecure individuals are unable to have a happy, secure and or stable attachment to a significant other.

Adult Attachment Styles

Secure/secure attachment couples are the most successful. The partners are flexible, able to communicate new patterns, balance between being dependent /independent, and cope with stressful and dangerous situations without too much additional anxiety or conflict. Most importantly the partners are able to express their needs knowing that their partner will be able to support them.

Partners within an insecure couple attachment lack flexibility (relationship is very rigid) and there is no sense of mutuality and consistency. The insecure partner is self absorbed. These partners cannot negotiate in their relationship and are unable to handle change. In times of change, stress or danger these partners will become highly conflicted. They are unable to cope outside of their rigid roles and they cannot meet the needs of their partner.

Dismissing couples give their partners a false sense of independence and self sufficiency, as they never developed self sufficiency or independence. These individuals are extremely needy and dependent. Conflicts are avoided at all costs in this couple. They are the couple that is most commonly seen in therapy.

As a child, partners who are preoccupied had their needs met but there was no consistency or stability in the time or way in which the needs were met. As a child these individuals were needy, often used by their parents to regulate stress levels, were often rejected or ignored. As an adult partner these individuals continually feel deprived and are never satisfied with their partner’s attempts to comfort them.

Dismissing/preoccupied couples are the most common couple seen in therapy. The dismissing partner has a false sense of self-sufficiency and hates the idea of dependency even though they are. The preoccupied partner is searching for the comfort and support and is never satisfied by what their partner gives.

Insecure/insecure couples have very high divorce rates due to high levels of conflict and anxiety. Insecure partners are so rigid and unable to cope with change when distressing events or change occurs they are left paralyzed and feeling vulnerable and anxious.

Lastly the secure/insecure couple is a hard relationship as each partner lies on different ends of the attachment spectrum. As challenging as it may be the secure partner is often able to balance the couple to create a form of homeostasis (balance). The insecure partner is rigid and inflexible but the secure partner is able to be flexible and move with the will or needs of the insecure partner.

Read more: Effects of Early Childhood Attachment on a Marriage Part II